This stunning Christmas dessert features a soft and tender white cake, sandwiching layers upon layers of cranberry filling and ermine frosting. It makes a beautiful and delicious way to finish off a holiday meal!
I'm dreaming of a white .... Christmas cake!
I've been patting myself on the back for the past hour for coming up with that.
Okay, but in all seriousness. Guys. This cake is SO GOOD. It's basically holiday season and pure joy in cake form.
I'm only semi-kidding.
It tastes as good as it looks, and looks as good as it tastes. It tends to get a lot of oohhs and aahhs. Plus, you can spread the prep out across several days to make it ahead for the holidays!
AND don't skip the sugared cranberries & rosemary décor (for added flair... and flex)
White Christmas cake ingredients:
This cake has three separate components to it: cranberry sauce, white cake, and frosting. This cake is a labor of love!
I sometimes break the prep down across 2 days to make it more manageable, but it is definitely doable in one day. There's a lot of inactive time involved.
So first, let's look at the ingredients to make the cranberry sauce:
And boom! That's it for the cranberry sauce.
You can use store bought sauce if you want to, but I seriously think homemade is the way to go for this cake. Plus, it's crazy easy to make. So why not go all out for the holiday season?
Next, onto the white cake:
• cake & pastry flour: for an ultra light and tender cake!
• baking powder + baking soda: use both for added lift and airiness!
• salt: to balance the sweetness
• butter + oil: butter for flavor and richness, and oil for moisture and softness
• egg whites: for a whiter cake
• vanilla: I say "clear" vanilla extract in the recipe below, and really the only reason is to keep the cake as white as possible. Pure vanilla extract will slightly tint the cake brown, but it's completely fine to use in this recipe if you don't mind
• sour cream: for richness, flavor, and texture
• buttermilk: also for richness, flavor, and texture!
Finally, onto the ingredients for the ermine frosting:
• flour: yes, flour! Don't worry, it's going to be cooked! Ermine frosting is less sweet that your classic ole' buttercream frosting, and I think it seriously takes this cake over the top in terms of flavor. It pairs so, so well - so I really prefer it over buttercream here!
How to make white Christmas cake:
Make the cranberry sauce:
1. Combine water and sugar in a pot.
2. Dissolve. Heat on your stove top until the sugar is fully dissolved.
3. Add cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boils, thickens, and almost all of the cranberries have burst.
4. Cool completely before using. I also recommend chilling the sauce for at least 1 hour to make assembly even easier.
Make the white cake layers:
1. Whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside.
2. Cream together butter, oil, and sugar. Beat until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture starts to fluff up (about 2 minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed).
3. Add egg whites. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
4. Add sour cream and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
5. Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk. Whisk in about half of the dry ingredients, followed by all of the buttermilk. Finish off by whisking in the final round of dry ingredients.
6. Portion, bake, cool. Pour into your cake pans, and bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
TIP: freeze your cake layers for 1 hour beforehand to make assembly easier!
Make the ermine frosting:
1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a pot. Whisk to combine.
2. Gradually add milk. Drizzle the milk into the flour/sugar mix, whisking while you do to prevent clumps, until fully combined.
3. Cook milk base. Heat on medium-low until the sugar and flour have dissolved, the mixture boils and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4. Cool completely. Cover the milk base with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cool completely to room temperature before using.
5. Cream butter until fluffy.
6. Gradually add cooled milk base to butter. Add the milk base in batches (about 2 tablespoons at a time), beating well after each addition. Make sure the milk base is fully combined with the butter before adding in the next batch.
1. Slice cakes horizontally. This is easiest to do with a serrated knife!
2. Layer. Place a cake layer on your serving platter. Spread on a layer of ermine frosting, followed by a layer of cranberry sauce. Repeat the layering process with a cake layer, followed by frosting, then cranberry sauce, until you have 4 layers of cake, and 3 layers each of frosting and cranberry sauce.
3. Frost & decorate! Use the remaining ermine frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Serve as is or decorate with some sugared cranberries & sugared rosemary!
Storage and make ahead tips:
The holidays can be a bit cray cray, so make ahead recipes are always welcome! You can walk through a lot of the steps for this recipe to make it up to 3 months in advance.
For the cranberry sauce, you can make it and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for 3 to 6 months! Defrost the cranberry sauce in the fridge overnight or on your countertop for a few hours before using.
For the white cake layers, if you don't plan on assembling it within 2 days, I recommend freezing the layers. Wrap each layer separately in plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for a MAXIMUM of 3 months - any longer and they can lose their moisture and flavor.
I actually love assembling this cake frozen, because cake layers are just a million times easier to work with when they're firm! So I usually don't bother defrosting them - I assemble the layers as normal and let the stacked cake defrost on its own at room temperature (for about 1 hour) or in the fridge (for about 3 hours).
The ermine frosting is the only step that I prefer to make the same week I want to assemble the cake, just because I'm not super fond of freezing this frosting. You can make the flour/sugar base up to 1 week in advance and keep it stored in the fridge. Once you're ready, let the base warm to room temperature before beating your butter and making the frosting.
Check out these other recipes!
Cranberry White Christmas Cake Recipe
For the cranberry sauce:
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries * see notes
For the white cake:
- 2 & ¾ cups cake & pastry flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 & ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract ** see notes
- ½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
- ¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
For the ermine frosting:
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- Make the cranberry sauce: In a large pot, combine water and sugar. Place over medium-high heat, and warm, while stirring, until the sugar has fully dissolved.
- Add your cranberries to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boils and most of the cranberries have burst (this should take about 8 to 10 minutes). If the mixture starts splattering, reduce the heat slightly to maintain a gentle boil.
- Pour your cranberry sauce into a heat safe bowl, and set aside to cool completely to room temperature. Chill for at least 1 hour, or until firmed up, before using on the cake to make assembly easier.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9 inch) round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Set aside.
- Make the white cake: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine butter, oil, and sugar. Using an electric mixer fitted with the beater attachment, beat the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has lightened in color and fluffed up (about 2 minutes on medium speed). The mixture will be slightly grainy.
- Add the egg whites to the butter mixture. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Add in your sour cream and vanilla, and whisk to combine.
- Add about half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, and stir to combine. Whisk in your buttermilk, followed by the remaining half of the dry ingredients until just combined.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between your 2 prepared cake pans, and smoothen the batter into an even layer. Bake in the center of your preheated 350°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool the cakes for about 10 minutes in the pans, and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely to room temperature. I like to wrap my cakes and pop them in the freezer for about 1 hour before frosting to make assembly easier!
- Make the ermine frosting: In a medium saucepot, combine sugar, flour, and salt. Whisk well to combine.
- Gradually pour the milk into your sugar/flour mixture, whisking constantly to avoid clumps, until fully incorporated. You shouldn't have any major clumps, but if you do, just run your mixture through a fine mesh strainer to avoid consistency issues with the frosting later on.
- Place your pot over medium-low heat. Cook the milk mixture, whisking constantly, until the sugar is fully dissolved, and the mixture boils and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Don't try to rush this! It can lead to undissolved sugar and flour which = clumpy frosting! This will take about 10 minutes.
- Pour your milk base into a medium bowl, and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the mixture to prevent skin from forming. Set aside to cool completely to room temperature before using.
- In a large bowl, add in your butter. Using an electric mixer fitted with the beater attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 to 5 minutes).
- Add the cooled milk base to your butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition, until fully incorporated. Make sure each addition of the milk base is fully incorporated before moving onto the next one.
- Add your vanilla in with the final addition of the milk base, and beat until fully incorporated. The mixture should be light and fluffy.
- Assembly: Slice your cakes in half horizontally to create 4 layers. Place 1 layer on your serving platter. Spread about a ⅓ of a cup of frosting over the surface of the cake. Top with about ⅓ of the cranberry sauce, and spread evenly over the frosting. Top with another cake layer.
- Repeat the layering process of cake, frosting, then cranberry sauce, until all cake layers are stacked. Don't top the final layer with cranberry sauce. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
- Chill the cake for 1 hour to make slicing easier, or serve immediately. (Optional) Decorate the cake with sugared cranberries & rosemary before enjoying!